In a recent effort to identify information leakers, White House spokesman Sean Spicer required aides to turn over their cell phones to be checked for communications with reporters.
Then, word of Spicer’s actions quickly leaked.
Current officials in the Trump administration are making it clear that leaking will not be tolerated, and are taking measures to guard against the practice.
According to current and former officials, the White House has narrowed access to a classified computer system by political appointees in order to prevent staffers from accessing memos being prepared for President Trump.
National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton was questioned about the new restriction and said, “President Trump takes very seriously the criminal release of classified information critical to U.S. national security. Access procedures are designed to ensure that appropriate personnel see material relevant to their duties, while protecting sensitive information.”
Department of Homeland Security officials voiced their fear to Reuters that there is a witch hunt afoot for the leaker of a draft intelligence report which allegedly found little evidence that people from seven terror-prone countries covered by Trump’s travel suspension order pose a threat to the United States.
Washington career civil servants view the crackdown as an effort to limit the flow of information inside and outside government and discourage officials from sharing stories that could be positioned negatively by the media.
The president has weighed in on his view of recent reports citing government dysfunction, describing media outlets as “lying,” “corrupt,” “failing,” and “the enemy of the American people.”
“The leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake,” Trump said at a Feb. 16 news conference. The president has directed the Department of Justice to investigate leaks of “classified information that was given illegally” to the media regarding the interactions between his aides and Russia.
According to two State Department officials, there is an intense fear of getting caught in a leak investigation or voicing opposition to White House positions. Some officials will conduct business face-to-face only, instead of using phones, email, texts or other messaging applications.
“There is a climate of intimidation, not just about talking to reporters, but also about communicating with colleagues,” one official said.
While not responding directly to the officials’ claims, acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner asserted that Sec. of State Rex Tillerson is working to foster an open climate where new ideas are raised and considered on their merits.
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